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Monday April 15th, 2024

Government to make minor changes to 20A to stave off protests

WELCOME – Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and Secretary-General Dhammika Dissanayake welcome President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa to Parliament House for the inauguration of the Ninth Parliament/PMD

ECONOMYNEXT – Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene is due to officially reveal the determination of the Supreme Court with regards to the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution which was challenged before the Supreme Court by 39 petitioners earlier this month.

The determination by the Apex Court as to whether the government can amend the constitution with a two-thirds majority in Parliament or should go before the people for a referendum to make the proposed changes will be announced today.

Days, after the official document was delivered to the Speaker by the Supreme Court, a set of papers purporting to be the determination, was leaked online. Lawyers and legal experts EconomyNext spoke to were confident that the leaked papers were genuine scanned copies.

In that the determination the SC appears to allow the government to make the major changes granting extraordinary powers to the President, allowing him to appoint judges, select ministers including the Prime Minister and dissolve parliament within a year of election.

However last night several ministers emerging from the regular cabinet meeting said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had agreed to several changes to the original proposal

These changes came as a wave of protests swept the country with leading political and religious figures ranging from the Buddhist Monks to Catholic Bishops strongly objected to some of the clauses that diminished the power of Parliament.

Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya activists protest against 20th Amendment

Education Minister Prof G L Peiris said yesterday that three changes would be made at the committee stage of the debate.

They are:
1) Extend the period when the president can dissolve parliament to two and a half years since the election date. In the current constitution, this period is four-and-a-half years
2) Allowing citizens to file FR cases against President as in 19A
3) Including the President and Prime Minister’s office by name to the clause which government institutions which can be audited by Auditor Generals as in 19A

Other Ministers told reporters last night that the clause which gave the executive powers to rush Bills through Parliament in a week would also be changed so that only laws that are needed for National Security or Disaster Management could be included.

The major points of contention by Human Rights activists and Opposition Parliamentarians in the 20A which allows the Executive to wield power over the appointment of Judges to the high courts and the downgrading of the Constitutional Council to a Consultative Committee will remain unchanged.

The other provision in the 20A which allows dual citizens to hold political office also will remain unchanged, although Nationalist Groups which supported the government virulently opposed the idea.

The independence of the Commissions such as the Police Commission, the Audit Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Right to Information Commission may also not be retained as the appointment of the Commissioners will be made solely by the President. (Colombo October 20, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana with additional reporting by Imesh Ranasinghe

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Iran President to visit Sr Lanka on April 24 anid rising tension, inaugurate Omaoya power project

ECONOMYNEXT – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Sri Lanka on April 24 on a one-day official visit to inaugurate Tehran-assisted $529 million worth Uma Oya multipurpose development project with 120MW hydro power generation capacity, official sources said.

The announcement on President Raisi’s visit comes two days after Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.

“The President is visiting to inaugurate the Omaoya project. He will be on a one-day visit,” an official at Iran embassy in Colombo told EconomyNext.

A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official confirmed the move.

This is the first time an Iranian President coming to Sri Lanka Iranian after then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in April 2008.

The Omaoya project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but had been delayed several times due to unexpected issued faced during the project cycle and funding issue after the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran and economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

The project was started in 2010 and the funding was to be received as loan grant from the Iranian government. However, Iran was able to provide $50 million before the sanctions. Sri Lanka has to bear the cost after the sanctions.

The project includes storing water in two reservoirs with dams before being brought through a 23 km tunnel to two turbines located underground and generating hydro power with a capacity of 120 megawatts and added to the national grid.

After power generation, the water is expected to be brought to three reservoirs while supplying water to 20,000 acres of old and new paddy fields in both the Yala and Maha cultivating seasons.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction was signed between the two countries in 2007 while Sri Lanka’s Cabinet approved the execution of the contract agreement between the Executing Agency, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management (MOIWM) of the GOSL and Iran’s FARAB Energy and Water Projects (FC).

When commencing the project on March 15, 2010, the scheduled date of completion of the project was on March 15, 2015. But the schedule completion date was extended to December 31, 2020 due to the unexpected water ingress into the head race tunnel and followed by social impacts.

The trade between the both countries suffered after the US sanctions. However, Sri Lanka inked a deal in December 2021 with Iran to set off export of tea to Iran against a legacy oil credit owed by state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to the National Iranian Oil Company.

Sri Lanka owes $251 million for crude imported before the US imposed sanctions on Iran. (Colombo/April 15/2024)

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Sri Lanka to discuss two contentious points with bondholders: report

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka and sovereign bondholders are to discuss two matters in the near future which the two sides failed to reach agreement at March talks in London, a media report quoting a top aide to President Wickremesinghe as saying.

Sri Lanka and bondholders had discussed four matters on restructuring international sovereign bonds in late March and agreement had been reached on two, President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake was quoted as saying on state-run ITN television.

A restructuring proposal by bondholders was not in line with IMF requirements, and Sri Lanka had sent a counter proposal, he said.

The matters will be discussed at round of talks in the near future.

Sri Lanka was optimistic of reaching an agreement with the bondholders before June, officials have said.

According to matters already in the public domain, sovereign bond holders are keen to get a bond tied to dollar gross domestic product, as they feel IMF growth projections are too low.

In past re-structuring so-called value recovery instruments, a type of warrant, gave their owners extra payments if a country did better than expected and were tied to items like oil prices.

Bondholders had initially proposed bond which would have a lower hair cut initially, and it will have additional hair cuts if growth is low (about 3.1 percent) as projected in an IMF debt sustainability analysis. (Colombo/Apr15/2024)

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BIMSTEC Secretary General visits Sri Lanka, discusses regional cooperation

ECONOMYNEXT – The Secretary General of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), discussed measures to enhance regional cooperation, during his visit to the island last week.

Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, Secretary General of BIMSTEC visited Sri Lanka from 07 – 12 April 2024, following his assumption of office as Secretary General of BIMSTEC in January this year.

The Secretary General “met with senior officials of relevant Ministries/Agencies to discuss measures to enhance regional cooperation under various BIMSTEC initiatives,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Several BIMSTEC countries have bilateral trade agreements, such as Sri Lanka and India, Thailand and Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, but no collective regional agreement to enable intra-regional leverage.

During the visit, Secretary General Pandey held discussions with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and paid courtesy calls on the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary General Pandey participated at an event on “Regional Cooperation through BIMSTEC” organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) on 9 April. (Colombo/April15/2024)

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